Chapter 1: "...too enthralled to still be afraid."
It’s that goddamned purloined letter trick—the truth was staring me right in the face the whole time and I never saw it coming.
But was that really true? Looking back and forth between Rashid—no, Armand—and Louis, he wondered if he really hadn’t seen the truth so much as denied that it was even there. The signs had been plain enough from the beginning: the gloves Armand perpetually wore at all times, the careful avoidance of direct sunlight—at least until Dr. Bhansali had shown up—and the distinct lack of a face mask when all the other house staff had been outfitted in medical-grade protective gear.
“I serve a god. It is my honor to serve.”
There was the faintest crinkling of flesh around Armand’s eyes. The color and intensity of the gaze was mesmerizing, but given that they were set in the face of an eternal being who seemed in his mid-twenties, it was particularly jarring.
“You’ll have to forgive my flare for the dramatic. It seems all those years in the theatre have left a lasting impression.”
“So was this whole ‘interview’ thing just an act, then?” Amazing how coherent Daniel’s words sounded despite the adrenaline coursing in his veins. In a word he was scared shitless, and for the first time since receiving his diagnosis, knew for certain that there were worse things than death out there.
“Daniel, why don’t you take a seat? Your heart rate is a bit elevated.” Louis gestured towards the ornate desk with the absurdly ugly and ultra-modern pink reading lamp on it. Daniel would have to briefly turn his back to the pair in order to approach the desk, and that was the last thing he wanted to do. It was more than obvious that the two vampires had been playing with him from the start, but as to the reasons why they would have gone to such elaborate and expensive lengths…who could say?
“I’ve seen death over and over, and over again—it’s boring.”
Louis scoffed, the sound surprisingly human. “Daniel, you know me better than that. I wouldn’t have invited you here if it weren’t for some greater purpose.”
“But that’s just it, isn’t it? I don’t know you. You asked me if I remembered what happened that night in San Francisco, but the truth is that by this point I’m beginning to doubt myself. Every time I think I remember enough bits and pieces to fit into a cohesive whole, you pull some grand stunt like your lover over there did.” He clenched his hands into fists to hide their trembling. By now the fear had dissipated into a simmering anger that had been steadily building over the past week. That was fine by him. Anger and betrayal he had known in spades throughout his life. Fear, more specifically fear for his own life, well, he had only know that three times in his life. Louis had been present at two of those instances, and now it seemed, so had Armand.
“Why can’t I remember what happened in San Francisco? Did you mind fuck me or something so that my memories were scrambled up with all the bullshit you’ve been feeding me this past week? Is that what vampires like you do when you get bored? Play to your victims’ fears and taunt them with half-truths and promises of secrets they could never dream of?”
Armand shifted his weight forward ever so slightly on the balls of his feet. “I would choose my words a bit more carefully if I were you.”
“And why is that? Hmm? If you’ve been following my career as closely as you claimed to, you’d know that speaking my mind may have gotten me into trouble, but it also earned me two Pulitzers.”
A wry smile graced Armand’s face. He raised Louis’ hand to his lips and kissed the knuckles tenderly. “Have your fun if you must, but know that my patience has its limits.”
Louis acknowledged the show of affection with a small smile of his own. Standing side by side, Daniel was struck by both the similarities and contrasts between the two: Armand, three times Louis’ age, was clearly the more experienced and powerful vampire. While he may have been content to play houseboy for the purpose of Louis’ do-over interview, the power dynamic was still very much at work much like it had been between him and Lestat. Armand still hovered a few inches off the ground which seemed to give the conception of inequity a tangible reference point.
Almost as soon as those thoughts formed Daniel hurriedly tried to clamp down on them. Louis had proven more than once that he could read his mind, and given how the situation had grown increasingly precarious and volatile, it wouldn’t do to add any more fuel to the fire.
“Was anything that you told me during our sessions true? Was that really how things went down?”
Louis looked up sharply. “I beg your pardon?”
So much for treading carefully….
Daniel leaned forward and flashed him a knowing look. Don’t forget who you’re trying to bullshit here, pal.
Louis’ eyes narrowed slightly. “What exactly are you implying, Daniel? That my recollection is not up to your discerning journalistic standards?”
“I’m not implying anything. You’re lying to me, or worse yet, you’re lying to yourself. I don’t need ESP or vampire parlor tricks to know that things aren’t adding up. I may be old and my memory has holes in it, but I haven’t lost my journalistic instincts.”
“No. That you have not.” He turned to Armand, who by now had both feet planted firmly on the ground. “What do you think, my love? Should we satisfy his curiosity now that the cat’s out of the bag?”
“I don’t see how it can make any difference.” The pupils in his amber-colored eyes seemed to expand slightly. “Il est trop captive pour avoir encore peur.”
“Yeah. News flash, but I’m not exactly fluent in French.” Though clearly you are if those playbills for the Theatre Des Vampires was any indication. It struck Daniel—not for the first time certainly since this whole odyssey of recollection began—that this time he had really stepped in it as the old saying went. Here he’d been under the impression that he had been interviewing a vampire when in fact he had inadvertently interviewed two of them at the same time. One had proved to be an unreliable narrator at best thanks in part to over a century’s worth of traumatic memories, but Armand…no telling what rabbit hole that one’s recollection would eventually lead to—if he was even willing to impart to Daniel even a part of the whole truth that Louis had been dancing around for days now.
Armand’s lips quirked up in a faint Mona Lisa smile. “I said that you were too enthralled to still be afraid. I feel that sums up the situation quite adequately.”
“That’s one word for it. Mostly I just want the truth, plain and simple.”
“The truth is rarely ever simple, Mr. Molloy. And it is always painful.” Armand indicated the delicately-carved and ornate chair that sat behind the writing desk. “If you are still feeling up to it, we would like to continue with the second half of the story. I’m sure that you will find it not only illuminating, but more than worth any risk you have already taken to hear it.”
“We would like to continue with the second half of the story?” Daniel looked from Louis to Armand, who continued to stand side by side. Only a vampire could appear that lifeless, as if they were completely apart from the fabric of reality. Louis had had that eerie stillness about him more than once during the course of their conversations, but Armand had appeared human in every conceivable way. In fact, the effect had been almost too convincing, too perfectly contrived.
“Over a century in the theater will do that to you. Though to be fair, I learned from an early age that pretending was a survival instinct as well as a talent.” He indicated the chair once again. “If you would, please.”
Daniel exhaled and then put his back to the two as he made his way slowly to the chair. How could he not? He was after all, just as Armand had claimed: he was powerfully enthralled and intrigued to let something as simple and elementary as fear prevent him from hearing the second half of the story he had come halfway around the world and forty-nine years from the past, to hear.
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